How the Ninemile Wildlife Workgroup Helps Bears
The Ninemile Wildlife Workgroup has worked to reduce bear conflicts in the Huson/Alberton area for over a decade through the following activities:
· Sold low-cost bear spray to encourage the use of bear spray and communicating why bear spray is more effective than a firearm to deter a charging bear.
· Hosted public meetings with bear experts discussing how to behave in bear country.
· Sponsored fence construction to protect crops and livestock through Defenders of Wildlife. For two years we provided up to half the cost of constructing bear resistant electric fences, with the owner providing the remainder of the cost and Defenders of wildlife providing the administrative and technical support.
· Maintaining a website (www.ninemilewildlife.org) with links to information on coexisting with bears. Through 2020, we published two newsletters/year with information on wildlife conservation. You can see them here: https://www.ninemilewildlife.org/projects.html.
· Three bear-aware coordinators in the Nine Mile and Six Mile Valleys work with Jamie Jonkel, the bear manager with Region 2 of Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, to inform a network of neighbors about bear and mountain lion activity. For details see below.
· For many years we provided low-cost bear resistant containers to area innovators for storing bear attractants such as garbage or animal feed.
· Assisted local communities with bear-proofing their community garbage sites.
· Co-sponsor with the Ninemile Community Center the annual apple cider pressing event to emphasize the relationship of home attractants and bear safety.
Our largest project was completed in 2014, cost $32,000, and resulted in 108 bear resistant garbage carts placed in the area that was deemed to be most effective in reducing conflict in the Six Mile and Lower Nine Mile Valleys. This was done through securing a grant from the Missoula County Secure Rural Schools Resource Advisory Committee (RAC) with partners that included the Lolo National Forest, Republic Services of Montana, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and Defenders of Wildlife
Why Care about Bears in the Ninemile?
Part of the answer is because plenty of bears live here and it’s in the bears and our best interest if we can get along. Moreover, we reside in an area that is excellent for wildlife movement and connectivity. If you look at a map displaying ownership, you can see that contiguous Federal and Tribal lands comes closer together in the Sixmile/Ninemile area than anywhere else in Missoula County. These public lands, much of them roadless, have little infrastructure and provide excellent wildlife habitat. In addition, a large percentage of the private land in these valleys is protected from development through conservation easements that conserve wildlife habitat. This enables wildlife the best opportunity to move between two of the largest intact wild areas in the lower 48 states, the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem and the Selway Bitterroot Ecosystem. Black bears have long occupied the valleys and grizzly bears commonly visit. This potential for habitat connectivity and bear distribution has been recognized in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Grizzly Conservation Strategy through creating the Ninemile Demographic Connectivity Area.
Public and private management efforts to educate residents and visitors about living with bears and reducing the availability of food attractants for bears has been effective in reducing conflicts over the years. However, there is still room for improvement. Education efforts and good land stewardship needs to continue. We need to stay alert for new opportunities that enhance our coexistence with bears and that conserve wildlife habitat and connectivity. The opportunity to enjoy our abundant wildlife is a major reason why our valley so special.
BeBearAware.org is an excellent resource for how to live safely with bears.
Be sure to check out their handout on How to Deploy Bear Spray (pdf) - it is excellent.
The Ninemile Bear Aware Program
The Bear Aware Program has the following objectives:
- Keep residents and MTFWP informed about bear sightings and conflicts
- Reduce and prevent human-bear conflicts
- Alert neighbors when bears are nearby
- Promote hunter safety in bear country
We have divided the Ninemile and Sixmile areas into three sections. People who live in those sections can work with a coordinator to either report problem bears or to be notified when there is a potential problem bear near their home. You can also contact any of the coordinators to get additional information about the program or how to become more bear-savvy.